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Re-assessing Political Islam: Part II

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Siddiqui asserted a "global Islamic movement" was already in place following the victory of the Iranian revolution and the mujahideen in Afghanistan: "the globalization process is now complete ... new ideas based on hard political facts and the setting of goals attainable by defined and tried methods are now setting [its] agenda." He hailed the "emergence of political consensus amongst Muslims all over the world."         

This boast was wildly optimistic. Islamists are far from united:

*Most western Muslims are assimilationist, faced with Islamophobia;

*"Obscuranist conservatives" working at times with the imperialists (Libya, Syria) have provided an excellent excuse to block any genuine Islamic alternative;

*Stark sectarianism continues to plague the umma, confirmed by the ongoing mass killings of Shia civilians by Sunni in Iraq, the persecution of Shia in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and the civil war in Syria. Iran's example engenders more envy than respect among Sunni leaders, which sadly translated into popular suspicion of Iran and Shia.        

Siddiqui, like many other critics both Muslim and secular, dismisses the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as a misguided tool of the Saudis and/or Americans, given that they sought political asylum in Saudi Arabia and the West under Nasser and Mubarak. But what option did they have? Whatever interaction there is between Islamists and imperialists is a two-way street, and the sharpened enmity between Islamists and secularists following the Egyptian coup is a stark corrective. The ongoing mass killings of MB supporters in Egypt is hailed by the Saudi and Gulf monarchies, whose real agenda as supporters of imperialism has never been clearer.        

Siddiqui uncritically praised the jihadists and Taliban in Afghanistan as true revolutionaries, defeating single-handedly the Soviet "empire', ignoring the massive US-Saudi backing and the unholy alliance of not only the West and the new genuine Islamist government in Iran, but communist China, and the dubious Islamic qualifications of many so-called jihadists, who needed no credentials to be equipped with deadly weapons, who included mercenaries and drug smugglers, and whose understanding of Islam was a fundamentalist, dogmatic one, derived from the Saudi Islam-by-rote taught in madrassas in the mountains of Pakistan.         

It was these jihadists who were the tools of the Saudis and/or Americans. The same goes for Egypt's liberals, not the MBers languishing in Egyptian jails or teaching in Saudi universities and now demanding the restoration of the elected government. The Taliban did more to undermine genuine Islamic renewal than to promote it. And how to explain that Iranian Islamists are implacable foes of Afghan's Taliban, and staunch supporters of Syria's secularist dictator against the motley array of "Islamists' there? One thing that is "clear' is that there is little b/w in politics, including Islamic politics.        

Iranian experience is indeed germane to the Sunni world, which will only move towards genuine independence through mass support for homegrown Islamists, in the first place, the Sunni MBs, culminating in the collapse of the existing neocolonial regimes. The Sunni Middle East was more thoroughly integrated into the imperial order, so this scenario requires that the empire withdraw its support for its local secular regimes, a prospect that is possible only with the unraveling of the neocolonial order itself.        

Power in Islam        

Power is central to Islam; you can't relieve oppression/ injustice if you are weak. Muhammad was a brilliant political strategist, and his progress from simple trader to head of a powerful new socio-political and religious formation indeed deserves careful consideration by his followers today. For while earlier prophets also became rulers (Yusuf, Dawud, Sulayman), they inherited rule from previous sovereigns. Muhammad was the first to build a political formation from scratch, providing a template for any future Islamic society.          

What is the Prophet's understanding of "power'? How did he acquire and use power? What role did military campaigns play in generating more power? How did the Prophet share power with others?         

These are the questions that Siddiqui raised and that Zafar Bangash addresses in Power Manifestations of the Sirah (2011), where he analyzes in detail Muhammad's political writings--the hijra (exile), the Constitution of Medina, treaties with various tribes, letters inviting world leaders to Islam, and the Prophet's final khutba (sermon)--and reflects on their relevance in today's world.         

There are 250+ letters, treaties of the Prophet. The prophetic mission lasted 23 yrs, and the next 10 years saw the rapid triumph of Islam throughout the Arabian Peninsula, the result of careful planning, strategic alliances, and judicious use of force to neutralize the power of enemies without wholesale destruction or massacres.        

Lessons from Muhammad's political writings        

*A wise leader pursues not war, but "soft power'--treaties honoring the legitimate needs of participating constituencies. Muslims moved to Medina and later returned to Mecca by invitation not invasion. (Europeans were not invited to the New World, nor were Jews invited to colonize the Holy Land.)        

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Eric writes for Al-Ahram Weekly and PressTV. He specializes in Russian and Eurasian affairs. His "Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games" and "From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-emerging Islamic Civilization" are available at (more...)

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